Simple blood test to rule out heart attack

Roisin Falconer suffered a heart attack in 2013. Picture: Neil Hanna

Roisin Falconer suffered a heart attack in 2013. Picture: Neil Hanna

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A SIMPLE blood test could rule out whether a patient has had a heart attack when they arrive at emergency departments complaining of chest pain, according to research by scientists.

More than a million people visit A&E departments with acute chest pain each year compared with 26,000 Scots who suffered heart attacks.

Researchers from Edinburgh University believe that routine use of this test could double the number of people with chest pain who can be directly discharged, saving the NHS money on diagnostic tests.

The study, published today in the Lancet journal, measured levels of a protein, known as troponin, in the blood stream which is released from the heart during a heart attack.

If the person had less than five nanograms of troponin per litre, then they are at very low risk of having had a heart attack or having one in the next 30 days.

Dr Atul Anand, who co-authored the research at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said: “It can be a devastating blow to learn you’ve had a heart attack.

“We’d much rather be able to rule this diagnosis out early and prevent unnecessary stress and an overnight stay in hospital. This research has highlighted a quick way to rule out a heart attack in A&E. With further results from this clinical trial we hope to have enough evidence to change clinical guidelines to ensure more accurate diagnosis.”

Current approaches for assessing patients with suspected heart attacks either require admission into hospital or lengthy stays in the emergency department for repeat testing.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: “A faster, more accurate diagnosis would be better for patients and save money. We want to ensure no heart attack diagnosis is missed but we equally don’t want to see people go through unnecessary tests and spend extended periods in hospital unless it is essential.”

Frequent chest pain is a part of everyday life for heart attack survivor Roisin Falconer.

The mother-of-three suffered a heart attack in 2013, caused by a rare condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection where a tear appears in the artery wall.

Despite making a good recovery, Ms Falconer, 40, suffers from chest pain and last month it became so bad that she was forced to go to A&E at the ERI, where she was admitted overnight until doctors established she was not having a heart attack.

Ms Falconer, of Bonaly, said: “This new test would remove the stress for the patient as you don’t have to wait to find out. I’ve got three kids so when this happens my husband has to take a day off work, grandparents get involved. It also takes up a bed in the hospital which could be saved.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com